Guest: Leslie Gelb, Tom Kean, Lee Hamilton, Ed Rendell, Bill Owens
ANDREA MITCHELL, GUEST HOST: Facing growing criticism, President Bush gives his first public statement since the tsunami disaster, promising more American aid.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our government is fully prepared to continue to provide assistance and help. We‘re grateful to the American and international organizations that are working courageously to save lives and to provide assistance and I assure those leaders this is only the beginning of our help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MITCHELL: Plus, more shakeups at the CIA as the director of analysis is forced out. We‘ll talk about intelligence reform and homeland security with the co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission, Governor Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton.
Sitting in for Chris Matthews, I‘m Andrea Mitchell. Let‘s play
MITCHELL: Good evening, I‘m Andrea Mitchell sitting in for Chris Matthews who will be back next week. The death toll from the tsunami in South Asia is staggering, more than 77,000 dead and growing concerns of even more deaths to come from disease due to contaminated water. NBC‘s James Hattori is in Colombo, Sri Lanka, one of the hardest-hit areas, with the latest.
JAMES HATTORI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Andrea, Sri Lanka‘s president made a direct appeal for help to President George Bush today in a phone conversation as countries across South Asia struggle with emergency relief efforts, that as more victims literally by the hour are being found and decomposing bodies are piling up in villages and government offices.
Mass burial sites and funeral pyres (ph) have been prepared even before identification of the victim is complete. New pictures continue to emerge of the tsunami‘s deadly force, crashing homes, cars, people, and in one case an eight-car passenger train south of Colombo where 800 people perished.
Adding to all the concerns, potential health problems in coming days and weeks. Officials say the death toll from communicable diseases like cholera and malaria could equal the death toll from the tsunami itself.
Now while aid is starting to reach some areas, including U.S. military assistance in Thailand, relief officials concede it will be a long-term effort and a costly effort with damage estimated in excess of $10 billion.
But all the numbers used to describe the scale of this disaster don‘t adequately convey the human pain and suffering that some many people here will be feeling for some time to come—Andrea.
MITCHELL: Thank you, James Hattori. It is truly horrific. NBC New‘s White House correspondent Norah O‘Donnell is with the president in Crawford, Texas.
Norah, the president finally did make a statement today on the tragedy. Why did they wait so long?
NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, stung by criticism that America is stingy, the president broke his silence for the first time because White House officials say they feel it was time for him to speak out and time to make clear the U.S. is doing all that it can and is reaching out to many of these devastated countries.
The president said he was shocked and saddened by the massive loss of life. He extended his thoughts and prayers to all the victims as well as to the Americans who have been killed and those who are still missing.
It‘s interesting, too, the president tackled that suggestion that the U.S. is cheap, that it does not provide enough foreign assistance, and he specifically rejected that charge by a U.N. official that rich countries could be more generous.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I felt like the person who made that statement was very
misguided and ill-informed. The—take, for example, in the year 2004,
our government provided $2.4 billion in food, in cash, in humanitarian
relief to cover the disasters for last year. That‘s $2.4 billion. That‘s
· 40 percent of all the relief aid given in the world last year was provided by the United States government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: The president added to that that America is a generous, kindhearted nation. He also noted that the U.S. has doubled its commitment to the region, some $35 million now being spent.
However, it appears that they‘re going to have to allot some more money. As you know, the head of the USAID saying today that by allotting that $35 million, it has drained their emergency relief fund and that Andrew Natsios saying that he has got to go back to the White House and ask for more money—Andrea.
MITCHELL: You know, Norah, it just seems like politics 101. These people are usually so sure-footed, and it‘s so easy for the president to walk out of his ranch, call the White House pool over and make a statement on the very first day that this happened. You had pictures of Gerhard Schroeder in Germany, and other leaders, Tony Blair, racing to crisis centers and taking action. Why did it take them so long? I just don‘t get it.
O‘DONNELL: Well, the White House said they put out a statement. They made clear that all these agencies were doing things, that the president was monitoring the situation, holding daily meetings with the NSC. This morning he held another meeting with the NSC and a lot of the officials who are directly involved in the aid effort. And they said this was the time for the president to come out and speak.
But clearly the president, stung by this criticism that he was insensitive to this, as well as worth noting, of course, the importance of many of these countries, Indonesia being the largest Muslim country in the world. It was time for the president to come and speak out, especially with the death toll soaring past some 70,000 -- Andrea.
MITCHELL: It really is extraordinary. Well, thank you very much, Norah O‘Donnell from Crawford, Texas. Leslie Gelb is the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, he is also a former diplomatic and national security correspondent for The New York Times, and a former State Department and Department of Defense official.
So with all of those hats, Les, welcome. And maybe you can explain, is this just a political storm or was this a real opportunity missed to reach out to a largely Muslim audience among these victims?
LESLIE GELB, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I think it really was a missed opportunity. My problem wasn‘t with what President Bush said today, what he said was good, what he is going to do will be good. But for the first three days he was silent and the White House story about his being silent while he was studying the situation and they were saying—it‘s going to be hard for people around the world to swallow.
This was an opportunity to exercise real humanitarian and moral leadership at a time when we really need it because our standing in the world, and particularly in the Muslim world, is so bad.
MITCHELL: And you know, one of the things that the White House was very sensitive about and rather annoyed about was that of all people, Bill Clinton was out, I guess, in London on the BBC. Let me play for a moment what Bill Clinton said in the first day or hours of this tragedy.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it‘s really important that somebody take the lead in this, the E.U., the Japanese, the United States. I think one of the problems is when everybody takes responsibility, it‘s almost like no one‘s responsibility.
Maybe what we should do is to try to get countries, or groups of countries to take responsibility for particular countries that were hurt. And I think if you did that, you‘d have a better chance of seeing the responsibilities fulfilled over a period of time, even when the emotional tug wanes.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MITCHELL: I guess there‘s a certain club, obviously, of presidents and former presidents and there‘s a certain protocol where former presidents don‘t give advice to their successors, so the White House did not appreciate this.
I should point out that Clinton spoke two days after the tragedy, but now here it is Wednesday already before George Bush came out.
Well, now what do we do? This is the largest scale relief effort in history in its sheer geographic size, Les. Are we equipped? Are the militaries equipped to reach these islands throughout the archipelagoes in the region and get to these areas that are so devastated?
GELB: It‘s a good question. No country, no group of countries, none of the worldwide relief organizations, to my knowledge, has ever handled anything anywhere near this big. But I think in terms of money, we will provide money and other nations will as well. The charge that we‘re being stingy or that we haven‘t provided enough relief aid, it just isn‘t so.
We have nothing to be ashamed about. In addition to that $2.4 billion figure that President Bush cited in governmental aid, we provide about $5 billion plus in private aid, Andrea, coming from individuals and corporations. So Americans really do a lot.
MITCHELL: Now there‘s no question that America is a generous country in an emergency like this.
GELB: We‘re very generous, very generous. And the military will play a big role in this as well. A lot of the delivery of supplies will come from military planes. The military will get involved in helping to organize the relief effort. And, you know, that counts, too, towards our generosity.
MITCHELL: I note you used to work at the Pentagon. And we are strapped pretty thin with our deployments in Iraq and elsewhere around the world. Can this kind of supply operation be accomplished with the Marine expeditionary group in the Pacific without also cutting into what we need in the supply line to Iraq?
GELB: The answer is, it depends on the magnitude of the tragedy and the opportunity to land in fields there that are working and how much other countries will do. This does have to get organized and not just our military.
The Indians and the Pakistanis and the Chinese all have military that can pitch in as well. And this is an opportunity for the United States to exercise some leadership in a coalition for humanitarian and disaster relief, and not just fighting a war. President Bush is a good war leader, but he has got to learn to be a good humanitarian and diplomatic leader as well. And this is just that kind of opportunity.
MITCHELL: Well, we‘ll be following up on that in just a moment. More with Les Gelb when we come back. And still ahead, 9/11 Commission co-chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton on the overhaul of the intelligence community.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MITCHELL: Coming up, more on the deadly earthquake and tsunami when we return. And later, 9/11 Commission co-chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton on the changes ahead for the CIA when HARDBALL returns.
MITCHELL: We‘re back with Les Gelb, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Les, what we‘re spending this $35 million in the first amount of money that we‘re going to be spending is we spend in four hours in Iraq. Now, we‘ve got the elections coming up, violence is increasing, the death toll is increasing. How optimistic are you that we can get through these elections with a significant enough Sunni participation to make them legitimate and be viewed as legitimate?
GELB: I don‘t think there‘s a chance that we can. I don‘t think there will be much Sunni participation because of the strong voice against it by the leaders and because of the insurgency going on there. It just won‘t happen. What you‘re going to have is a huge turnout in the Shia part of the country, in the south, and a huge turnout by the Kurds in the north. And they will totally dominate this new national assembly.
But the Sunnis will be frozen out, marginalized and it will make it even more difficult to do what they should have done in the first place, Andrea, which is to work out a political deal, a power-sharing compromise in a constitution just the way they did in Afghanistan. They did it right there. They‘re doing it wrong in Iraq.
MITCHELL: They‘re trying to patch it up now with a proposal that the Sunnis be allotted certain numbers of seats in the national assembly even if they lose a particular election. How realistic is that? Will the Shia go along with it?
GELB: I don‘t know if the Shia will go along with it because they haven‘t gone through that bargaining process, that states that try to work it out do when they put together a constitution. A constitution is a way of sharing power and protecting rights. And each of these groups in Iraq, the Kurds, the Sunni Arabs and the Shiite Arabs has got to feel that the constitution and the new political situation will protect their own interests, their basic interests and their basic values. And if that doesn‘t happen, these elections won‘t mean a darn thing.
MITCHELL: Do you think there is a way that the administration can, should, and perhaps already is looking for an exit strategy—post-election exit strategy to start turning more and more responsibilities significantly over to the Iraqis themselves, even if their political process is still in flux?
GELB: That‘s what all you smart guys in Washington are saying, that President Bush has this secret plan and Dick Cheney is planning to use the elections as a lever for our withdrawal. I don‘t believe it. I think they understand the consequences of that kind of withdrawal in the face of a defeat would be disastrous for the United States.
What we‘ve got to figure out is how to put that country back together in a way where the main groups will fight for themselves, where they‘ll take on the insurgents. And we can do that by starting with the fact that Iraq is a political insurgency and you have got to work out a political agreement in order to make the military force work.
We went through this all with Vietnam. You remember it very well. We trained the South Vietnamese forces very well but they didn‘t have a government to fight for. You have got to make it so the Kurds have something to fight for, the Shiites, and the Sunnis.
And then our military force will take effect and then we‘ll be able to get out. This is all possible. But to go through this notion of elections without an underlying power-sharing deal is not going to advance the situation at all.
MITCHELL: Well, thank you. Thank you very much, Les Gelb, with your Vietnam experience you know exactly what you‘re talking about about this.
Up next, what do the changes in leadership at the CIA mean for the agency and intelligence gathering? 9/11 co-chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton will be here. Your are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MITCHELL: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The shakeup at the CIA continues. CIA Director Porter Goss has forced out Jami Miscik, the deputy director of the agency‘s analytical department. Her departure is the latest in an exodus of top officials, including the agency‘s deputy director and two senior officials at the clandestine service.
Is it a good idea for the CIA to be purging it‘s senior ranks as we fight the war on terror and the war in Iraq?
Former Governor Tom Kean chaired the 9/11 commission. And former Congressman Lee Hamilton served as the commission‘s vice chair.
Welcome to both of you.
Governor Kean, first to you, what about all the changes at the CIA, is that a good sign or bad sign?
THOMAS KEAN, 9/11 COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: Well, it depends. I think it‘s probably a good sign if it‘s part of a plan and it‘s an understandable plan. And secondly, depending who is going to replace those people. There are very, very good people within the CIA if some of those good people are brought up to replace the people who were left. And yes, it‘s a good reorganization, it‘s a good plan. But if the people who replace those people aren‘t first class, obviously it‘s not a good idea.
MITCHELL: Congressman Hamilton, what about the morale issue and the fact there is so great a turnover, does this create the possibility that there won‘t be continuity on key issues such as these terror threats?
LEE HAMILTON, 9/11 COMMISSION VICE CHAIR: I think any director coming in should have the prerogative to put people that he has confidence in, trusts implicitly in the top positions. That‘s a very large agency out there, and only a few positions have really changed hands. Now, they‘ve been key positions.
But in those positions I think Porter Goss is entitled to have the people he wants. And it‘s interesting in the statement made today by the woman who retired that she recognized that prerogative, if you would, of the director.
The CIA is under real stress. It‘s an institution that‘s been through some very tough years. And it‘s not surprising that there would be some unease there.
MITCHELL: And in fact she had been blamed for getting the weapons of mass destruction issue wrong in 2002 on Iraq, so she‘s taking some responsibility.
HAMILTON: And she moved from corrections. She‘s a highly qualified professional. She‘s not the only one that missed the signals on weapons of mass destruction.
MITCHELL: In the media as well as in government, I should say.
HAMILTON: Absolutely and the Congress and the executive branch and the media, we all missed it more or less. So it wouldn‘t be fair to put all of the blame on her.
We found in the 9/11 commission investigations, we did not look at the weapons of mass destruction issue, that the problems were more systemic than personal. And I think that‘s probably the case with regard to weapons of mass destruction as well.
MITCHELL: Well, let me dig a minute with you, Governor Kean and Congressman Hamilton into the larger issue, which is the reorganization that‘s come about largely because of the recommendations of your commission. And how these relationships are going to work. We don‘t have a national director of intelligence yet. That vacancy exists. Who is going to be the person—who should be the person that briefs the president every day? Should it be the CIA director or this new national intelligence director? Governor Kean?
KEAN: Well of course, first of all it has to be somebody who the president has total confidence in and it could be the CIA director, although, the director has a huge job, not only do we see now with this reorganization, but we‘ve got to bring in more people with language skills, the agency doesn‘t have the kind of diversity it needs to deal with the kind of problems we have to deal with in this world, so the CIA director has a big job on his hands.
But first of all, it‘s got to be somebody the president respects, because he‘s the presidential adviser every day. Secondly, it has to be somebody with knowledge of how Washington works, to work through that bureaucracy. Third, it‘s probably got to be somebody with some knowledge of the entire intelligence bureaucracy and all those agencies and can pull all this together and has their respect. It‘s a large order. It‘s going to be tough for the president to find the right person.
MITCHELL: Well, one of the questions that comes to mind is, will that person have enough knowledge if the CIA director is still running the spies overseas and the analysis here in Langley? Will the new national intelligence director know enough when that person goes in with the president every morning?
HAMILTON: Well, if he‘s on top of his job he will. The president made it very clear when he signed the legislation that he expects the director of national intelligence to brief him on a daily basis. Keep in mind here that the CIA is only one of many intelligence agencies. It‘s an important one, obviously. But there are many others.
The director of national intelligence is going to be over all of them. He‘s going to be able, or she, to go to 15 or 16, 17 agencies, get the best information they have. Among those agencies will be the CIA, but he‘s also going to be looking at the agencies in the Defense Department and the military agencies and all the rest of it.
So the D.N.I. is going to have the overview. He‘s in a better position, a better perspective than the CIA director to give the best information to the president.
MITCHELL: Governor Kean, have they approached you about this job?
KEAN: No. And I don‘t honestly think I‘m qualified.
MITCHELL: Do you think that the president—
KEAN: Lee Hamilton on the other hand is qualified.
MITCHELL: Should it be a military person, though? What is the qualification for this job, Governor Kean?
KEAN: Well, it could be military. As I say, the first qualification is the absolute trust of the president, because if the president has any distrust to that person, it‘s not going to work, simply not going to work. And after that, knowledge of the various agencies, ability to work within the government and perhaps an ability to work with the Congress.
MITCHELL: Just to button this down, have you been approached for this job, Lee Hamilton?
HAMILTON: Well, I have no comment about that.
MITCHELL: Aha. We‘ll have to follow up. Is it something you would be considering or that you might...
HAMILTON: I would not—look, I‘ve been in this business a long time, over 30 years, I‘m at an age now where I probably ought not tackle any major effort. So there are plenty of good people in this government and I think the president will pick a good one.
MITCHELL: All right. Well, we will have more coming up with Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton when we return.
And still ahead, Governors Ed Rendell and Bill Owens on the president‘s agenda for his second term.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MITCHELL: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with Tom Kean, who chaired the 9/11 Commission, and Lee Hamilton, who served as the vice chair.
Gentlemen, what is left to do to make us safer?
Governor Kean, first to you. Are you satisfied with the promise so far with the legislation and what is next on your plate in order to make this country safer against terror attacks?
KEAN: Well, first of all, there was remarkable progress.
And we‘re very, very happy with the bill that‘s been signed. And as commissioners and former commissioners, we‘re going to monitor its progress. But there is still a lot to do, first of all, the Congress. The Congress was very quick to reform the executive, and we‘re grateful for that, but they haven‘t yet reformed themselves. The Intelligence Committees of the Congress have not been working very well.
And as we put into this new system, there‘s got to be some oversight and oversight has got to come from the Congress. So, Homeland Security has got to stop reporting to 88 different congressional committees and Congress has got to get serious about reforming.
Secondly, there are a number of other areas, spectrum. Spectrum means what—the airwaves, that police and fire can‘t communicate properly with each other, because they don‘t have enough spectrum. The Congress has to make more spectrum available to them.
Thirdly, the Congress—I don‘t want to go on. Thirdly, the Congress has got to stop giving out homeland security moneys as if it was pork barrel programs. It makes no sense to give little tiny towns the same money per capita as you give New York City or Los Angeles. It doesn‘t make any sense whatsoever. So, that‘s got to be changed. It‘s got to be risk-based. If you‘re really at risk, you should get more moneys for your defense.
And the whole area of foreign policy, which we can go into if you want to.
MITCHELL: Well, let me ask you, Congressman Hamilton, is there any way to get Congress to stop giving Wyoming or Montana, not to demean the people out there—they need to be safe, also—but they don‘t have the needs of New York City. Is there any way to readjust that as long as politics is politics?
HAMILTON: It‘s up to members of Congress.
The risk assessment idea as a basis for allocating funds is a sound one. It‘s very reasonable. It‘s very logical, not always politically the best thing to do perhaps for a member of Congress. But it‘s urgent in terms of the national security. We know where these terrorists want to strike. They want to kill as many Americans as they can. They want to strike at the symbols of American power.
Now, that does not mean—the second point does not mean you attack rural Indiana, in all likelihood. It does mean you go after New York and Washington and some of the other big targets. So that‘s a very important matter for us. But to pick up on one of the things Tom said, look, we made three major recommendations, create the director of national intelligence. That‘s been done. Create a national center for counterterrorism. That‘s been done.
And the third one was congressional oversight. We want one committee overlooking intelligence. We want one committee overlooking Homeland Security. We want a subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee on each of these items, intelligence and homeland security. We want to create a cadre of real experts in the Congress to oversee this.
You must have robust oversight, given the fact that you have given a director of national intelligence extraordinary power. And, in our system of government, where you focus a lot of power, you had better have good oversight.
MITCHELL: Now, I know this sounds very bureaucratic to people, but this is really the guts of the matter, because this is getting people in Congress who know what they‘re doing and who know enough about the substance. And it takes a lot of work and a lot of study. And the Congress members and senators who are spread all over the lot don‘t have that kind of time.
HAMILTON: That‘s exactly right.
You have so many acronyms, it takes you a couple of years to get you acquainted with the acronyms in the intelligence business. It is a very complex organizational structure, all kinds of fancy technology. And it takes a little while to get acquainted with. You have got to have real expertise in order to have tough, robust oversight.
MITCHELL: Governor Kean, one of the things that just happened was that we now have a new head of counterterror for the FBI, the sixth since 9/11. How can you have six people doing that job, the most critical job in the FBI on terror, just since 9/11 and have any continuity and any experience base?
KEAN: Well, you can‘t. The answer is, you can‘t. You have got to try and get somebody in that he job who is going to stay for a while, who is going to really become an expert and is going to work not only within the FBI, but the other agencies. That‘s—I don‘t know who the new person is, but my hope is that it is somebody who can work not only within the FBI, but with their colleagues in the other intelligence agencies.
MITCHELL: Governor, you both studied this issue, the issue of 9/11, so intensively. Is there anything that you don‘t know that you still worry about, having really dug deeply into what caused the attacks?
KEAN: Well, I‘ll tell you what I think every American really has to be worried about. And that is a terrorist armed with a nuclear weapon. And that is probably our biggest fear and our biggest worry. And nothing we learned on 9/11 made us less worried about that.
And one of the things we have to do and recommend very strongly is reenergize ourselves to find out where these nuclear weapons are, try to contain them, pursue Nunn-Lugar and other methods. And that‘s very, very important. We can‘t stop that.
MITCHELL: Which is the legislation to spend money to disarm and deactivate all those weapons that are still in the former Soviet Union.
Congressman Hamilton, Osama bin Laden has been changing his tone, if you will, in the audiotape this week and in the December 16 announcement about Saudi Arabia. What do you read into it? I know we‘re all hypothesizing here, but you‘re an expert.
HAMILTON: Well, we are indeed, but there‘s been a very clear change in tone and maybe even objectives. He‘s not nearly as belligerent, inflammatory towards the United States as he was some months ago.
He‘s much more focused on Saudi Arabia, for example. And the attacks today, in my mind at least, follow up on what he has been saying. He wants to get rid of that government in Saudi Arabia. And that now seems to be a principal target. There is some element of reading tea leaves here, because only a handful of people have ever seen him, talked to him on our side.
But we have been studying very carefully what he says. He‘s changing his objectives, his style, his tone. What it means, we can‘t be sure, but there is a change.
MITCHELL: And probably sees Iraq and the elections coming up as a real target of opportunity.
HAMILTON: Yes, he does. He certainly does.
He seems to be aiming more as the Islamic community, trying to get them more on his side. I think there‘s a possibility that he feels that he alienated a large part of the Islamic world with his vicious attacks on America. And he‘s now trying to ingratiate himself to that group.
MITCHELL: All right, well, thank you very much, Congressman Lee Hamilton and Tom Kean.
And, up next, the future of the Democratic Party and President Bush‘s second-term agenda with Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell.
And don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing. Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MITCHELL: Coming up, what steps does the Democratic Party need to take to repair the damage from the 2004 election? Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, the former Democratic Party chair, will be here.
MITCHELL: Democrats will elect a new party chair in February after the disastrous election results last month. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell chaired the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 presidential election campaign.
Welcome, Governor. Thanks for joining us.
What does the party now need to do and what kind of person needs to lead the party?
GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, first, let me say that Terry McAuliffe, I think, served the party very well. He did a great job in improving our technical skills as a party, did a wonderful job in fund-raising, did a fine job. But I think the time has...
MITCHELL: But the results were pretty terrible.
MITCHELL: The results on money are great, but you lost.
RENDELL: Well, we did lose. But how much of that is attributable to the party chairman? Are you crediting me for winning the 2000 election?
RENDELL: My job was to get more votes than Governor Bush, and we got more votes than Governor Bush.
No, how much of that you can lay on the chairman‘s doorstep. But I think the time has come for the party to be led by a non-Washingtonian. And I say that with great respect for our congressional leadership both in the past and in the present. But we‘ve got to find someone outside of the beltway who isn‘t caught up in the beltway view of things, who understands what people in red states and blue states and basically understands what hometown America is thinking about. And...
MITCHELL: But which hometown America? Because are we talking about someone from a small town? Well, maybe that‘s Howard Dean. Or are we talking about someone who is more middle of the road? I mean, is Howard Dean the kind of person you want or do you need somebody who can appeal to red state America?
RENDELL: Well, again, Howard Dean brings a lot of passion to it. He brings a lot of energy to it.
But I think we need broader appeal. And, by the way, Howard Dean, when he was governor of Vermont—and you know this, Andrea—was a moderate and did some very, very fiscally conservative things as governor of Vermont. Unfortunately, that‘s not his current image. And sometimes perception becomes reality in this business.
MITCHELL: Well, let me show you something that he said on “Meet the Press” earlier this month. Howard Dean said this about Democrats and the abortion issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)
HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have long believed that we ought to make a home for pro-life Democrats. The Democrats that have stuck with us through their—who are pro-life—through their long period of conviction are people who are the kind of pro-life people we ought to have deep respect for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MITCHELL: Is there a way to reconcile Democrats on that issue? Will the base tolerate someone as party chair who is—quote—“pro-life”? That‘s a term that‘s used rather artfully, but meaning against abortion rights?
Well, I think what we‘ve got to look for is common ground on abortion as a party. And there is common ground between pro-life Democrats and Democrats who are pro-choice. And the common ground is, we all want to see the number of abortions reduced. And there are plenty of ways to do that, with sex education, sex education on the preventative side, with making prevention tools available for young people, by speeding up the process of adoption, by making adoption easier in this country.
And then, if we do those things, there‘s a place for those who have a religious belief that abortion is wrong and there‘s a place for those such as myself who believe that, in the end, the government has no right to intercede in a woman‘s choice as to what to do with her own body.
RENDELL: So I think there—can there be pro-life Democrats? Of course there are. If you look at our Governors Association, the DGA—and the Democratic governors are I think becoming the leaders of this party—we have ones who would be called pro-life and ones who are clearly pro-choice.
MITCHELL: Well, give me an example of somebody from outside the beltway that you think could take over the Democratic Party.
RENDELL: Well, again, someone who is not in a position to do it, but would be great would be Mark Warner, who in his last year and a half as governor of Virginia.
MITCHELL: Governor of Virginia.
RENDELL: Yes, but Mark is also the head the head of the NGA this year, and that‘s a bipartisan organization.
MITCHELL: The National Governors Association.
RENDELL: Right. So he couldn‘t do it.
But someone like a Jim Blanchard, former governor of Michigan, a very solid, fiscally conservative Democrat when he governed the state of Michigan, he would be a good leader, or Ray Mabus from Mississippi. They would be a good leader.
We have got some incumbent governors who would be great, but it‘s very difficult for an incumbent governor to do this. Mark Warner would be ideal, because he‘s in his last two years of office and he is term-limited. Tom Vilsack would be terrific, but Tom turned it down. But he would have been, in my judgment, a perfect leader for this party, who gets what people are thinking outside of the beltway.
And I think that‘s crucial for us as we go forward. We‘ve got to find that person. But that person also has to be able to appeal to the base. One of the things—we‘re looking at Governor Blanchard very hard in the National Governors Association. And he has a great track record with African-American in Michigan and in Detroit, very well liked by our base, because our base is crucial to us. And we shouldn‘t ignore the base.
Ron Kirk is someone, a former mayor of Dallas, happens to be African-American, ran a very—terrific race for Senate. Ron Kirk would be somebody who could lead our party and would present the right image. So I think we‘ve got a number of choices out there.
MITCHELL: Governor, let me give you a chance to play Karl Rove, pretend that you are Karl Rove. What advice would you give to George Bush now about his second-term agenda and some of the tough issues like Social Security? What could he do that would be a politically attractive and possible way of uniting people around some of these tough decisions? And would Democrats go along?
RENDELL: Well, the key is uniting.
And I don‘t know whether Karl Rove, his long-term political plans, he‘d be willing to do things that might upset or disturb the Republican base, because that base grew and it grew very effectively for them. But, if I was advising George Bush, just as an American, I would say reach out and lead. Do some things that brought people together.
For example, on the health care issue, the president very much wants the health savings accounts. Say to the Democrats, I understand your No. 1 issue is covering more children with health insurance, expanding the CHIP program. Give me health savings accounts and I‘ll give you an expansion of the CHIP program, so that every child in America goes to sleep at night knowing that they‘re covered by health care. Their parents know that they‘re covered by health care.
Bring us together as a country in ways like that. If you‘re looking at Social Security, there, there‘s got to be room to compromise. The work that Senator Breaux did and Senator Kerry did with some of the moderate Republicans really is a road map for us to solve Social Security. And maybe we do what the president wants to do, private savings accounts as a pilot program and see where it goes, something that is more fundable and doesn‘t run up the national debt.
I think there‘s so much opportunity for the president to reach across the aisle, not just across the aisle to Democratic office holders, but to reach across the divide that exists in America and say, look, this was a close election. Switching 90,000 votes in Ohio would have changed the result. And I am going to be the uniter that I said I could be by reaching across and exercising that moral leadership.
I‘d love to see President Bush make use of President Clinton. President Clinton, who is beloved in the countries of the world, I‘d love to see him used as a special envoy.
MITCHELL: I got to tell you, that‘s not going to happen. They‘re upset down in Crawford for Bill Clinton speaking out about the earthquake relief and putting the president, they thought, in a bind, because he hadn‘t spoken out yet.
RENDELL: I understand.
RENDELL: But, of course, I thought President Clinton happened to be right there.
Look, this is the time for George Bush to be the uniter, not just of America, but to exercise moral leadership on the right things that are facing the world, the challenges facing the world. He can do it.
MITCHELL: Free advice for Bill Clinton—excuse me.
RENDELL: For about.
MITCHELL: Free advice for George Bush.
MITCHELL: From Ed Rendell.
Thank you very much, Governor. And happy new year to you.
RENDELL: Same to you.
MITCHELL: OK, up next, a Republican perspective on President Bush‘s second-term agenda with Colorado Governor Bill Owens.
And don‘t forget to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site. Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MITCHELL: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
For the Republican side of the 2005 political landscape, we turn to Colorado Governor Bill Owens.
GOV. BILL OWENS ®, COLORADO: Good to be back with you.
MITCHELL: Well, good to be with you.
What about the president‘s responses this week? He‘s been criticized broadly for not responding more quickly to the earthquake and tsunami disasters. Should he have stayed at Crawford and not made an on-camera statement, not reached out more vigorously?
OWENS: You know, Andrea, I saw that piece in “The Washington Post” and I read some of the criticism. I think he has handled it appropriately. I think that this is a tragedy that you don‘t want to politicize. There‘s nothing actually a president himself can do. The United States military, the U.S. State Department, my own brother, others are involved in this relief effort.
And I don‘t think he has handled it—I think he has handled it very well. I think he will be speaking on it, as he has already started to do. But, again, this is kind of Monday-morning quarterbacking. Was he a day late? I don‘t think so. I think he‘s done—done well.
MITCHELL: What should his top priorities be when he comes back and they start working on the State of the Union and the legislative agenda? Should it be Social Security?
OWENS: You know, I think it will be. And I think it will be the other subjects that he talked about in his press conference, as well as during the campaign.
One of the things with this president is, is that, what he says he‘s going to do, he works to do. He did it as governor. He said he would reform the juvenile justice system and cut taxes and do these things. And he did during his six years as governor. He did the same thing as president in his first term. There isn‘t a lot of guile with this president. And so when, during the campaign, he talked about reforming Social Security, pushing forth, forward on tort reform, continuing the war against terrorists, I think you‘re going to see that in this second term, along with a major revision of the tax code, which is obviously a priority with President Bush and with his entire administration.
MITCHELL: Well, earlier in our program, we talked to both Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton from the 9/11 Commission. And they‘re concerned about the next steps. There hasn‘t been congressional overhaul of the oversight. The committees are still all over the place. There‘s no real expertise in one committee for either Homeland Security or both CIA and intelligence.
And we don‘t yet have a national intelligence director. We don‘t have a security Cabinet secretary. Are we missing the boat here? Are we moving too slowly on these major steps in the war on terror?
OWENS: You know, I don‘t think so. I think, if you look at the progress that‘s been made since September 11, in terms of setting up, first of all, the Department of Homeland Security, in terms of the work that Tom Ridge has done these past three years, in terms of the 9/11 Commission and how quickly many of its recommendations were implemented by Congress just a few weeks ago, we want to make sure we put the right people in.
We want to make sure that we don‘t, under the guise of this emergency, make hasty and bad decisions. So, I think the administration is moving aggressively in the area of homeland security. But I think it is also moving carefully. We need to do it right, not just quickly.
MITCHELL: And how important are some of the social or so-called moral issues to those of you out in the states? What about the question of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage?
OWENS: You know, here, it‘s been an interesting issue.
We‘re concerned in Colorado. We have a state statute that says that marriage is a matter between a man and a woman. We‘re concerned that higher federal courts may some day take that Massachusetts case where Massachusetts‘ Supreme Court has said that gay marriages are allowed, and, under the interstate commerce clause, force other states to do the same.
That‘s why, as we live in a time of increasing judicial activism, there is a move in the Congress to make it very clear nationally that marriage is a matter between a man and a woman. I support that effort, because I am concerned that what we‘ve tried to do in Colorado, which is establish what Colorado law is, may some day be overturned by a federal court, telling us we have to accept what Massachusetts has done.
This is not an issue that we on the conservative wing of the Republican Party have really pushed. It‘s an issue that the courts have made us address in self-defense for those things which we think are important.
MITCHELL: And, finally, in the minute we have left, Governor, I wanted to ask you about Iraq. And as we approach this election next month, the increasing violence, how concerned are you and your constituents in Colorado about the progress of this war?
OWENS: I think there‘s been a lot more progress than we‘ve sometimes seen through our friends in the press.
I know that 15 of the 18 provinces in Iraq are relatively peaceful. I know that the terrorists are doing everything they can to disrupt this upcoming election. Most of the terrorists are from the minority. The people who were in power under Saddam Hussein, they don‘t want to lose power. They don‘t want a democracy to come forth in Iraq like we‘re seeing come forth in Afghanistan.
Yes, we‘re concerned about the terrorism. We‘re concerned about our losses. I think that Coloradans and I know certainly I believe we‘re on the right path. And I think we‘re going to see that terrorism diminish in Iraq one we get past this election, once the people of Iraq are once again in charge of their own future. So, I‘m really optimistic over the period of the next few months in terms of what is going to be happening in Iraq.
MITCHELL: Well, thank you very much, Governor Bill Owens.
OWENS: Thank you, Andrea.
MITCHELL: We all pray that you are right.
MITCHELL: And good happy new year to you.
And join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Our guests include Former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta and former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein.
And be sure to tune in Friday for a special HARDBALL, “A Soldier‘s Journey Home.” Chris Matthews spent some time at Walter Reed Hospital with wounded soldiers back from Iraq who are now on the road to recovery. That‘s Friday, 7:00 Eastern.
And right now, it‘s time for “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN.”
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